Strong finish leads Plum girls to WPIAL playoff berth
On Jan. 24, the Plum girls basketball team stood at 3-5 in Section 2-5A and had just suffered a 17-point setback at playoff-bound and defending PIAA champion Mars.
The Mustangs had two directions they could’ve gone. Coach Steve Elsier said he is proud of the way his team fought to go in the direction that led to a WPIAL playoff berth.
Plum scored three straight section victories to earn the fourth and final spot in the postseason from the section.
“It was great to see the way the girls responded coming down the stretch,” Elsier said. “We preached one game at a time and to not look past any opponent. We prepped as best we could, and the girls really paid close attention in film study. We brought that to practice and made sure we did everything we could to be ready.”
Plum had scored consecutive victories over Armstrong, Hampton and Kiski Area in early January to improve to 3-2 in the section.
But the Mustangs suffered defeats at the hands of section champion Gateway, runner-up Franklin Regional and Mars to fall below .500 in section play.
While Plum had the victories in its back pocket heading into the rematches with Armstrong, Hampton and Kiski Area, Elsier said his players didn’t take anything for granted.
The defense did its part in those games, limiting the River Hawks, Talbots and Cavaliers to an average of 29 points.
“I felt we were getting better defensively with forcing turnovers and rebounding, and we continued to be able to do a good job with that,” Elsier said.
The Mustangs officially clinched Feb. 4 when Armstrong fell to Mars, 49-41, but they didn’t let that result sway their effort against Kiski Area the next night.
Plum finished off the three-game section win streak with a 40-32 triumph over the Cavaliers.
The Mustangs trailed 15-13 at halftime, but they used a 32-17 advantage in the second half to rally for the win.
“We were getting a little too frustrated with ourselves in the first half,” Eliser said. “I told them they needed to calm down a little bit emotionally. We were kind of taking ourselves out of the game mentally, and we had to get back on track. Hannah Potter is a nice player, and we did a better job defending her in the second half where she wasn’t getting as many open looks.
“Another key for us was pushing in transition and not allowing them to set up in their zone. We were able to make it a full-court game instead of a half-court game.”
Sophomore forward Kennedie Montue led Plum with 22 points, while senior Kelsi Zik added 11, including a 3-pointer to beat the third-quarter buzzer that extended the Mustangs advantage to eight at 31-23.
“We knew our ability and the teams we needed to beat,” said Zik, one of just two seniors on the roster along with Alexa Seigh. “We knew our skill level, and we just had to show it. Everybody had to be on the same page.”
Plum enters the playoffs with a 10-11 overall record. The Mustangs suffered a loss to Gateway in their section finale to finish at 6-6, and they were to host Burrell on Monday to close out the regular season.
The game with the Bucs was to be contested past the deadline for this week’s edition.
The WPIAL playoff pairings were to be released Tuesday evening with first-round games set for Friday and Saturday.
“This feels great. This is what we’ve been working towards,” Zik said. “It’s nice to know that all of our hard work, working together in practices and games, is paying off. We’ve accomplished one of our goals. We hope to accomplish more in the playoffs.”
Plum is in the WPIAL playoffs for the third straight season after coming up just short of the postseason in 2016.
“I told the team to not make congratulations for making the playoffs an end point,” Elsier said. “I want them to make it a new beginning. It’s great we got in, but we still have a lot of work to do. We want to extend our season.”
Michael Love is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Michael at [email protected] or via Twitter @MLove_Trib.